Learning objectives versus learning outcomes
First, let’s get the definitions straight. A learning objective is the instructor’s purpose for creating and teaching their course. These are the specific questions that the instructor wants their course to raise. In contrast, learning outcomes are the answers to those questions. They are the specific, measurable knowledge and skills that the learner will gain by taking the course.
It might help you to think about the difference in terms of perspective. Learning objectives are usually viewed from the instructor’s perspective (what does the instructor want to accomplish?) while learning outcomes are seen more from the learner’s perspective (what will the course teach me, as a learner?). Of course, the two are closely related, because a trainer’s objectives will ultimately be translated into the learner’s outcomes, as long as the course successfully serves its purpose.
Why are learning outcomes important?
For instructors and content authors, focusing on outcomes is a great way to improve the effectiveness of your course. That’s because it encourages you to put yourself in the learner’s shoes. By consciously putting learning outcomes into words, you gain a clearer understanding of your purpose as an instructor.
They are also valuable because they give instructors, learners and administrators clear, measurable criteria for assessing whether a course has done its job and if you need to improve your approach to the material. If you start with a clear learning outcome in mind but find that the course fails or struggles to achieve this outcome, then you know that you need to rethink your approach.
If you are a training manager, you will probably also think of learning outcomes in financial terms. After all, your organization is investing valuable resources in its training program, so it’s important that the training content delivers a good return on that investment. Learning outcomes are precisely that return on investment.
That means clear, measurable learning outcomes are essential for evaluating whether a specific training activity is worth the time and money. If a course fails to deliver on learning outcomes, it’s time to try a new strategy.
The benefits of learning outcomes
Lastly, let’s look at how clear learning outcomes improve the learning experience for the three main stakeholders of any learning program: the learners, the instructors, and the administrators/managers:
Benefits for learners
- They give learners a better understanding of the specific knowledge and skills they will acquire during the course.
- Focusing on outcomes from the beginning places greater emphasis on the relevant, practical knowledge and skills to be gained.
- This makes learning more effective because learners have a clear sense of what the desired outcome looks like.
- Clear learning outcomes also help learners see why content and assessments are relevant to them.
Benefits for educators
- Focusing on learning outcomes puts trainers more in touch with the learner’s perspective. It also gives them a clearer sense of purpose when creating their course.
- They help course creators choose the best assessment techniques.
- With them, trainers have a measurable standard for judging the success of their course.
Benefits for administrators/management
- When learning outcomes are defined, it gives managers a clear mark for measuring whether a specific course, resource or activity has delivered a good return on investment.
- They enable administrators to evaluate the effectiveness of their training program as a whole.
- They act as a guide for evaluating the performance of course creators, so they can improve methods and achieve better results when needed.
- Lastly, focusing on learning outcomes allows administrators to create a learner-focused training program, in which all activities are centered on giving learners the knowledge and tools they need for success.